Over 300 species of butterflies can be found at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. There is even a butterfly garden in front of the Visitor Center. October and December are the best times to visit for butterfly viewing – one October day had 65 documented species sightings. Many of the species you will see are tropical, some resident, most just passing through. Below is a guide to just some of the incredibly beautiful butterflies you may see at this Texas wildlife refuge.
Swallowtail Butterflies. The largest butterfly (wing spans up to six inches!) you will see on the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, these butterflies are easily identifiable by the “tails” on their wings. The Giant Swallowtail is by far the most common, followed by the Pipevine Swallowtail. Occasionally, you may be lucky enough to spot a Black Swallowtail, too. A Swallowtail will hover over a flower as it feeds instead of landing on it the way other butterflies often do. Giant Swallowtails are easy to identify from their striking black wings, which have two rows of yellow dots on them. Look for the shiny blue body of the Pipevine Swallowtail, as well as the orange markings on the underside of its wings. Black Swallowtails also have black wings with yellow dots, but the top row dips down to follow the curve of its wing, unlike the straight top line of the Giant Swallowtail. Look for Swallowtails in fields and wooded areas in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
Gossamer-Wing Butterflies. The Gossamer-Wing butterfly is a small to medium-sized butterfly. The Gray Hairstreak is the most commonly seen Gossamer-Wing Butterfly on the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Look for the bright red “eyespots” on the tips of this pretty little gray butterfly’s wings. You will see them in the fields and meadows of Texas at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. You may also see the Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak, or the Dusky-Blue Groundstreak.
Brush-footed Butterflies. This is the largest family of butterflies, and the most diverse as well. These butterflies are commonly brown, orange, yellow or black, and may feed on nectar, sap, fruit, carrion (yuck) or even dung (double yuck.) Unlike some butterflies, which have only one host plant, the family of brush-footed butterflies use host plants that range from trees, vines, flowers and shrubs. The most common Brush-footed butterflies at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas are the American Snouts (a pretty gray butterfly with elongated mouth parts that look like a snout) and the Gulf Fritillary. The Gulf Fritillary is a beautiful butterfly with orange and gray wings that almost look like stained glass.
Variegated Fritillary, Bordered Patch, Elada Checkerspot, Texan and Pearl Crescents, and the Painted Lady are also fairly common in Texas at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, as is the Red Admiral and the White Peacock. The Variegated Fritillary has orange and black wings that are scalloped on the edges which will help you tell the difference between this and the Gulf Fritillary. Look for it in the open fields of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The Bordered Patch is a very unique butterfly, with swirling patterns of cream, orange or white on its dark brown wings. Look for this butterfly in the open forests of Texas. The Red Admiral, with its curving bright red markings on dark brown wings, can be found alongside streams as you hunt for butterflies in Texas at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.